Anuradhapura, ‘the sacred city’ of the teardrop island has Buddhist culture seeped-in to its core. There are absolutely no tourist traps and the city feels much safer (saying this from the point of view of a solo traveler).
After spending first 3 days of my Sri Lanka trip in Galle and exploring the SoutWest Coast of Sri Lanka, I lugged my backpack on my shoulders and hopped on a train to Anuradhapura. While the train route was spectacular – coastline till Colombo and then beautiful countryside – taking a train might not be the best decision for long routes (it’s painfully slow). However, I enjoyed the slow journey mostly looking out of the window and munching every kind of snack that was being sold on the train – sliced apples and pineapple sprinkled with masala, daal vadais stuffed with prawns, peanuts etc.
Being the ancient capital of Sri Lanka and the birth place of Buddhism in the country, Anuradhapura is rich with history and has beautiful ruins, temples and stupas. However, if you are a history buff just visiting these sites without a knowledgable guide to help you is a waste of time. I was accompanied by my tuktuk driver who knew quite a bit about these places, but communication was a bit of a problem. I’d suggest you go with someone who knows the history well. You can hire a tuktuk that’ll take you around. You can also book a cycle tour with Mighty Trails.
The most interesting part for me among all the sites was this drawing on a large rock. The description along with it was what got me hooked (see the next pic). Probably one of the oldest world map? Fascinating!
The Maha Bodhi Tree temple is one of the most sacred places in Anuradhapura. The temple complex is built around the Bodhi Tree which was grown from a cutting from the original Bodhi Tree in India under which Buddha attained enlightenment. This cutting was brought to Sri Lanka by King Asoka’s daughter Sanghmitra.
If you’re crazy about local vegetable and fish market then head to the night market in Anuradhapura. There’s plenty of local produce that you might not have seen before.
Rice and curry meals are mainstay all over Sri Lanka and you’ll find restaurants serving set lunches with fish curry, chicken, daal, stir fried beans and salad.
While most of the people in Anuradhapura practice Buddhism and live simple lives, they also love their Arrack (coconut rum) with finger food. Outside almost every wine shop you’ll find little carts frying fresh daal vadais – plain as well as stuffed with prawn, and tuna samosas.
My dinners in Anuradhapura were usually at this roadside cart making fresh hoppers . I would pick up my host’s bicycle and pedal down to the corner of the road to have my fill of appams (hoppers) with spicy sambol.
I booked all my stays in Sri Lanka through AirBnB and didn’t regret it. Manjula, my host in Anuradhapura and his family were the kindest and sweetest people. Having worked as a tour guide, Manjula has a lot of knowledge and can really guide you well in planning your itinerary. He also runs Mighty Trail – the bicycle tour company in Anuradhapura. My breakfasts at M House was my most favourite part. On two separate days I was served rice pancakes stuffed with jaggery and coconut, vegetable pattice, fish vadais (the family is vegetarian so the vadai were ordered from outside), rotti with daal and the most amazing onion sambol.
You can book M House through AirBnB here.
Add Anuradhapura to your itinerary only if you are absolutely crazy about history or interested in trying food from different parts of Sri Lanka (in that case I’d suggest you go to Jaffna too).